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Persevering in Suffering

Stonebrook Community Church http://www.stonebrook.org

James 5:7-20 Persevere in Suffering

In 2001 in the country of Yemen, south of Saudi Arabia, a Muslim man named Khaled, watched the Twin Towers in New York City collapse from the hands of his fellow Muslims. He was horrified at what his religion had prompted.

A short time later after hearing the gospel, including a broadcast on a radio station, he believed in Jesus Christ. He knew that he could be ostracized from his friends and family. And even killed. But he and his wife, Samira, believed, and later were baptized.
By 2014 they were receiving death threats. He was very afraid and began making plans to leave the country. But before that could happen, tragedy struck. She was in their kitchen cooking, and someone—perhaps a family member—had put gasoline in their cooking oil in the kitchen. When Samira went to use the oil, the gasoline exploded, and she died from burns a short time later.

Such is the kind of persecution that Christ’s followers have endured over the past 2000 years.

Khaled and his four children are still devastated and grieving. They have escaped from Yemen, and are seeking asylum into a safe country.

Yet God is sustaining them. Khaled and his children believe God has a plan for them. They are holding on to their faith by considering eternity. They have hope because of the perspective that their eternal salvation gives them..

We Christians suffer all kinds of trials—whether its martyrdom like Khaled and his family have encountered, or whether it’s our normal day to day kind of trials. What will help us to keep going in our faith in Christ? To not quit? To not abandon our faith? What will enable us to forgive and even pray for our enemies, like Samira, Khaled’s wife did on her death bed, with burns covering her body?

This morning, we are in our 5th week exploring the Letter of James. Chapter 5 addresses our suffering. How we can find hope in our pain. How we can keep going in our faith in the midst of suffering.

James 5:7-11

Now let’s dive into chapter 5.

James 5:7–11 ESV “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”

James is writing about suffering. What should we do in suffering? There is a key word: Therefore. He is tying what he is about to say with what he just said in vs. 1-6.

Last week, we read through vs. 1-6, and we saw James cracking down on wealthy landowners who were defrauding their workers. These landowners were getting rich from evil means. And many people….apparently some of the Christians who were reading James’ letter…were suffering at the hands of evil employers.

So James is now addressing that suffering. And he may actually be expanding that out to include all kinds of suffering…..since he talked about trials and suffering in Chapter 1, too.

So here in vs. 7-11, James wants them to keep going in the faith. To keep walking with Jesus in their faith. He says, “Be patient.” Don’t lose heart. Don’t give up on God. Don’t doubt or worry. Don’t be angry or bitter about the suffering you are enduring.
What is the motivation for hanging in there? It is this simple truth: “The Lord is coming back.” Jesus is coming back to the earth. Jesus Christ came to earth once. And he promised he is coming back again.

This is our ultimate hope. We can hope in many things, and they’re not necessarily bad. We can hope in changed circumstances: Less pain, a disease gone, better finances, a new job.

But the Ultimate Hope is God. It is in the return of Jesus Christ. Our ultimate hope is in heavenly things. Eternal things. Resurrected life.

Also in vs. 7, James gives one of his many earthly metaphors: He compares this to the farmer. The farmer plants his crops. Then what happens? He has to wait patiently. The rains will come, and there is little the farmer can do about it. He just has to be patient.

Vs. 8
He now repeats: “Be patient.” And he adds, “Establish your hearts.” The Greek word here means to strengthen. To make strong. To be firm. Like sending the foundation of a building down deeper. Like the roots of a tree plunging downward.

Like an offensive lineman in football or a wrestler on the mat, they need to plant their feet and posture a certain way so that they don’t get knocked on their backs.

They have to establish themselves.

“Be patient. Don’t quit. Establish your heart. HOW?? By knowing and believing that Christ is coming back.

Why does the Second Coming provide strength?
1. It gives us PERSPECTIVE.
The Second Coming tells us there is another life after this one. And it is very long. It is eternal.

Paul profoundly wrote this about 12 years later than James’ letter.

2 Corinthians 4:16–18 ESV “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

So there is a comparison we must make. We have to compare our sufferings now with the glories and joys to come.
When suffering we must become forward thinkers. Annette and I talk about this often. And we have talked about it much more in the past 2 years since her stroke. A new world is coming for us who are in Christ. A world with no more pain and suffering. That gives us strength. That renews our hope.

Perspective changes our view of suffering. It can strengthen our weak and failing hearts.

For the sake of having HOPE in the midst of suffering, we all ought to memorize this passage in 2 Corinthians. God has ministered to me many times for many years with these verses.

2. The Second Coming of Christ also tells us that JUSTICE will be done.
Jesus is coming back to judge the earth. All injustices will be made right.

2 Thessalonians 1:5–8 ESV “This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels…”

Look carefully at what Paul says: “God consider it JUST…there is JUSTICE…when he repays with affliction those who afflict you….” Those words ought to alarm the one causing suffering. And those words ought to bring great comfort to those suffering.
I just finished a book on the Civil War. Overall the story of the War grieved me. The destruction was horrific. One thing I noted: Some of the slaves who were suffering greatly were Christ-followers. I assume many of the slave owners were not. According to Paul’s words here, someday the Lord Jesus Christ will put all those wrongs to right. Those slaves will be exalted. The oppressors will be afflicted by God.

I think about God’s JUSTICE almost every day. When I read a story about Khaled and Samira in Yemen. When I am treated unjustly. When I’m tempted to be angry at the injustices in the world. But my heart is calmed, because I remember the Lord will make all wrongs right someday very soon.
Again, James says, “Be patient. Strengthen your hearts. For the coming of the Lord is near.”

Now let’s read vs. 9
Vs. 9

James 5:9 ESV “Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.”

In the middle of this passage on enduring in faith through suffering, why does James speak about grumbling and complaining against one another?

Two possible reasons:
1. When we are suffering and in pain—physical pain, emotional pain—it is quite easy to lash out at those near us, even when they are not the cause of our pain. Our spouses, roommates.
2. James might also be referring to grumbling and complaining we do towards those who are causing our suffering. We grumble and complain in our hearts and with our lips at those who are making our lives difficult.
Like in chapter 4 that we looked at last week, James tells us that the Lord is the one who will judge others.
So stop your complaining about others in your suffering.

Vs. 10
Now in vs. 10, James tells us that we need some examples in suffering.

James 5:10 ESV “As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”

We need to look to others who have suffered, and observe how they persevered in faith. To be inspired by them.
So he says, consider the prophets. One prophet we know much of is Jeremiah. He lived in some of the toughest of times in Israel in the OT.

In at least one instance, he was beaten and imprisoned in chains.

Jeremiah 20:2 ESV “Then Pashhur beat Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks…”

Later on, he was threatened with death. And he was thrown in prison again.

Jeremiah kept going. James says that people like this are “examples of suffering and patience.”

And we can learn similarly from others in our world today.

It was Friday at the supper table that Annette and I read the story of Khaled and Samira from Yemen. On her deathbed, Samira forgave her torturer. As a widower now for these past 3 years, Khaled perseveres in faith despite continued persecution, even toward his 4 children. I had tears in my eyes. “If they can keep going, so can we.”

James is telling us, “In all your trials, don’t lose heart. Look to the examples of others who were patient in suffering.”

Then in vs. 11:

James 5:11 ESV “Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”

Those who persevere are blessed by God. God’s gracious hand comes down on them to bring them good.

And like pointing us to the prophets, he also points us to Job.
• Job endured some horrific suffering.
• In a Satanic-inspired moment, all of his livestock and servants were killed.
• Then, moments later, all 10 of his children died in a catastrophic accident.
Devastating. Suffering beyond my comprehension. A short time later he was afflicted with a horrendously painful, wasting disease. In all of that, he stayed true to the Lord. The middle portion of the book is about his wrestling with the “WHY” of his suffering. His perspective was very unclear and in error. But both in the beginning and the end, Job walked by faith.
Like the prophet Jeremiah, Job is an example of enduring in faith. Of not giving up on God.

James 5:13-18

Read James 5:13-18. As we read this, look for the one dominant theme in this section. There is one word that is repeated in every verse.

James 5:13–18 ESV “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.”

What word appears in every single verse? Pray. Prayer. This wonderful, mysterious, difficult, remarkable topic of prayer.

Let’s go through it one verse at a time.
Vs. 13
“Are we suffering? We should pray.”

Isn’t that obvious? Why does James need to say that? Of course when we’re suffering, we should pray.
Perhaps I’m the only one here who does this, but quite often in the middle of a trial, in the midst of suffering, small or large, I DON’T pray. I’m grumbling. I’m upset. I’m irritated. I’m sad. Then commonly, sometime later—perhaps a few minutes, perhaps even a few days—that I realize I’m trying to endure the trial on my own strength APART from God. I am NOT praying. I am NOT walking by faith.

James very plainly says, “If you are suffering, pray.” It’s not complicated.

So WHAT should we pray?

What is our first and most frequent prayer? “Lord, get me out of this trial.” Even the Lord Jesus, in his extraordinary suffering as he faced the cross, prayed, “Father, if it is possible, take this cup— this cup of suffering— from me.”

But that’s not all we should pray. If we look at the previous section on suffering in James 5:7-11, we get some ideas of what to pray.
We pray for patient endurance. That we wouldn’t give up on the Lord. We wouldn’t doubt and disbelieve and walk away from God, even in the most terrible of sufferings.
We pray that we would remember and believe that Jesus promised to come back to earth again. That gives us hope.
We pray for JOY in the midst of the PAIN.
We pray for a thankful heart for even the smallest of blessings in the midst of the pain..
We should pray with one another in our sufferings and trials. Last Tuesday, Dave Bovenmyer and I were in the office talking about some challenges I am facing, and right on the spot, he asked, “May I pray for you?” I was so grateful. Wouldn’t it be God-glorifying if you walked into the lobby and saw several groups with heads bowed, praying? What a joy!

“If anyone is suffering, let him pray.”

Then also in vs. 13, James says,
“Are we cheerful? We should sing praises.”
As with the first point, this seems so obvious. Of course when I’m cheerful and good things are happening in and around me, I will sing praises to the Lord.

Do I always do that? Well, sadly, when life is going well, when I’m cheerful, I don’t always respond to the Lord in faith by singing praises.

Why don’t I do that? Well, when life is going well, often I don’t think about God. I don’t feel my need for him. I don’t call upon him. I don’t look to him. That grieves me.

But very simply, James tells me, “Well, then sing praises!”

And please note: The command is not merely to LISTEN to music. It is to SING praises. Many years ago at Stonebrook, we had a tune to Psalm 13:5-6. “I will sing unto the Lord, for he has dealt with me kindly.” A few days ago, while Annette and I were driving in the car, she said, “Let’s sing that song.” We sang praises. A very sweet time.

If you are cheerful, SING! Some of you may feel like your singing would be painful to the ears of those whom you love. Well, go into your bedroom and close the door…..AND SING! God is commanding us to sing praises for our joy and his glory!

Vs. 14
Now James offers the 3rd reason we should pray: When we are sick.

James 5:14 ESV “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”

When we have some type of illness. A sore throat. An aching back. Or something serious like cancer.
James gives some clear instruction: The sick person should call the elders to come to him to pray for him and anoint him with oil. Elders in the NT in my best understanding are the pastors of the church. Actually the term “Elder” is used much more frequently than “Pastor.”

Why anoint the sick person with oil?
There a number of opinions on this.
• Some say it’s a medical reason. Healing power in the oil.
• Others say some supernatural unction is given.

I believe the best explanation is that the oil has a physical and symbolic purpose.
• It demonstrates the physical care of the elders. The human touch.
• And it is symbolic in the sense of consecrating that person to the Lord.
The elders commit that person to the Lord’s care and power.

Concerning sickness, there are several possibilities of why we are sick.

First, and most commonly, it simply is the result of the Fall of Man from glory in Genesis 3. Our work is cursed, our bodies are decaying. We will get sick. We will get diseases. And in case you hadn’t noticed, in the end…..everyone dies. Had you noticed that? It all began in Genesis 3. Death was not in the beginning.

Second, sickness is demonically influenced. Job is the best known. But examples in the gospels of sickness caused by demons.
Luke 13:11 ESV “… there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself.”

Third, some sickness is because of unrepentant sin. I tend to think that this is not common, for there are only a couple of examples of it in the NT. But we must be alert to the possibility. The most graphic example is in Acts 5, when a couple named Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Lord and to the church. And they were struck dead on the spot. An alarming story.

Here in vs. 14, I believe James is speaking simply of all kinds of sickness. From a variety of causes.

Vs. 15

James 5:15 ESV “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”

This verse has raised many, many opinions over the centuries.
I believe that in the first half of the verse, James is talking about physical ailment. The word “SAVE” can also mean, “made well” or “restore.” I believe that’s the intent here. And when the sick person is made well, the Lord “raises him up,” as in, “He raises him up out of bed.”

This first half sounds like a guarantee: If prayers are uttered in faith, the sick person WILL BE restored. Healed.
So is this true? Is James giving an absolute guarantee?
Throughout the NT, it is clear that God answers prayers according to his will and wisdom. He is the Sovereign Lord. He is not some genie in a bottle who gives us whatever we want and whenever we want it.

I can’t show every verse on this topic, but we know this about prayer and God answering:
• He is a gracious Father and loves to show kindness.
• His will is the ultimate determiner. The Lord Jesus, just hours before his crucifixion, prayed that this suffering would be taken from him. But he concludes, “Not my will, but yours.”
• Earlier in James, we learn they didn’t get what they wanted because they asked for selfish motives.
• And we learn that even if God says, “NO,” to our prayers, in the end of this age, when we reach glory in heaven, all things will be made right. Any good we lacked here in the form of suffering will be made up for more than we can imagine.
So as we pray for healing….or for that matter, anything else…. we keep in mind all these biblical truths. And with all that, James commands us to pray for healing.

Then in the 2nd half of the verse, James says, “IF…IF the sick person has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”
In this verse, we are instructed, I believe, to be aware of the possibility that our sickness is the result of unconfessed, unrepented sin. That is a possibility. No more explanation of it is given, but it seems to be “discipline” from our heavenly Father. He doesn’t want us to continue rebelling against him, so he is using illness to get us to turn back in repentance.

Two mistakes we can make here.
1. Ignore the possibility that our illness is the Lord’s discipline due to unrepented sin.
2. Over-analyze, and worry and fret that maybe there is something unconfessed sin I’m unaware of. And we
So we should pray when we are sick. “Lord, is there any unrepentant sin in my life? Is there something I am resisting you on?” And we can call on a godly friend or one of the elders to counsel with us, that the Holy Spirit would search our hearts. If we need to repent, the Spirit will make it clear.

If we have that kind of an honest, humble heart, the Spirit will make it obvious. We don’t need to remain in doubt.
But then we move on. We don’t need to dwell on this long, and worry and fret about. We don’t need to go on a deep sea dive and search for unconfessed sin when it just isn’t there.

The NT indicates that some sickness is caused by this. But not all.

Vs. 16
Now James speaks more to this possibility of illness possibly caused by unrepentant sin. In vs. 14, the elders are to pray. Now here everyone is to pray.

James 5:16 “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

James may be speaking of some sin in general that needs to be confessed to your friends in Christ. He may also be speaking specifically to sins against a fellow believer. In that case, you need to confess to the one whom you have sinned against.

Then James says that when a righteous person— a follower of Jesus—prays, there is a POWER there. Now the POWER is not actually in us or in the words we utter. The power is in the Lord. He hears our prayers and acts in POWER.

Vs. 17-18
Then in vs. 17-18, he speaks of a remarkable story of prayer. Elijah prayed for a drought over the nation of Israel in 1 Kings. And then 3 years later, he prays the rain would come.
A remarkable story. God worked with great power.
James is essentially telling us that the same God who heard Elijah’s prayer will hear your prayers.

So in every one of these 6 verses, James tells us to pray.
Pray when you’re suffering.
Pray when you’re cheerful. SING.
Pray when you’re sick.
Pray in confession and repentance when you’re sinning.
Pray for the power of God to be on display.